with costs.

"H.R. 418 would impose technological standards and verification procedures on states, many of which are beyond the current capacity of even the federal government," the letter said. "Moreover, the cost of implementing such standards and verification procedures for the 220 million drivers' licenses issued by the states represents a massive unfunded mandate."

States expressed concern that the implementation cost of the Real ID Act will run in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Another feature of the bill that has opponents fuming is the provision that would allow the secretary of homeland security to have virtually uninhibited legal control to ensure that security standards protect the country's borders. In an editorial, The Washington Post called the provision "bizarre."

Piercing Privacy

Despite all the attention focused on unfunded mandates, extreme legal provisions and anti-immigration requirements, the Real ID Act poses a real threat to privacy, according to one security expert.

Richard Hunter, vice president and research director for the Gartner Executive Programs, and author of the book, World Without Secrets, explained that the bill contains no legal constraints on what can be done when access to identification information is authorized.

Authorization occurs when an individual allows someone to scan the card containing biometric and other identification information, said Hunter, and because of that, the Real ID Act will make it much easier to gather identity data and use it for other purposes.

Hunter mentioned the recent experience of bars in Boston and New York purchasing scanners to read embedded data on Massachusetts and New York licenses to find bogus IDs used by underage drinkers.

Little attention was given to the fact that the scanners can capture the data stored on magnetic stripes or chips embedded in the IDs and drivers' licenses. Under the Real ID Act, there's nothing legally wrong with allowing bars to distribute that information to a third party, according to Hunter.

"The Real ID Act provides no legal restrictions on the ability of a private firm to collect and store such data," he said.

More worrisome than bars collecting the data is government agencies' ability to scan drivers' licenses, which could contain biometric information about the individual.

"It used to be you had to commit a crime before the government would gather a biometric from you," he said. "Under this legislation, they are saying, 'We'll do it regardless.'"

Given that many private-sector entities that collect background information on citizens get a great deal of their data from the government, Hunter wondered, what's to stop them from gathering biometric information as well?

According to a 2002 survey conducted by Gartner and Harris Interactive, two-thirds of those polled supported national IDs, provided their uses were restricted to activities such as validating identification at the U.S. border. However, when the number of uses increased, support for a national ID dropped dramatically, according to Hunter.

Just as revealing was the fact that less than 16 percent of the survey respondents trusted state DMVs to manage a national identification system.

America's willingness to allow the government to collect and store biometric information for security purposes will be sorely tested by the current federal legislation.

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor